Mississippi’s Priority Framework Process

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is complying with a national initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a new collaborative framework for implementing the Clean Water Act. The new framework is designed to help coordinate and focus efforts to advance the effectiveness of the water program. Given resource constraints and competing program priorities, leveraging resources and coordinating efforts is crucial to effective program implementation. This new framework does not change regulation, policy or issue new mandates. It is intended to provide focus for MDEQ’s water programs so as to better manage the activities and promote collaboration to achieve water quality goals for the streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries of Mississippi.

In order to select the priority watersheds MDEQ used landscape information to calculate metrics on the watershed scale that are used to characterize and rank watersheds by resource value and potential stressors. Resource value is determined using environmental and human welfare data layers. Environmental factors considered include erosion potential, impervious area, wetlands, impaired waters, and concentration and types of discharge permits. Human welfare factors include demographics, fishing advisories, water supply intakes, public water supplies, recreational water bodies, public waterways, national and state parks, and recreational locations. Other factors considered were the presence of existing watershed plans, ongoing restoration and/or conservation work and engaged stakeholders all of which greatly increase the chances of success.

Weights for each of these were adjusted based on professional judgment of the importance of each for characterizing watershed value. Once these factors were developed, standardized, and weighted, the tool produces a relative ranking of every watershed within the state. This ranking was used to screen watershed for activities that will address the water program goals. A total of 21 watersheds were chosen as targeted watersheds through this process.

MDEQ will review the selection process and screening criteria annually to identify the priority watersheds for the following ten year period. Flexibility will be retained to re-evaluate selections and amend watershed selection in the face of changing state priorities (e.g. disasters, funding) as well as changing EPA national and regional priorities.